Legislators dug deeper on Thursday into how they might propose changes to the state’s tier system, which measures levels of economic distress. After hearing from non-partisan legislative staff, Joint Legislative Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee (EDGE) committee co-chair Rep. Susan Martin said that the committee would likely review and vote on a full proposal to revise the system when it meets next, in April. The EDGE Committee focused on how to measure a local government’s health: tax rate (current measure) or tax capacity (staff’s recommended measure)? According to staff, looking at a local government’s ability to raise money -- as opposed to the actual dollars it raises -- helps policymakers better understand an area’s capacity to help itself. Further, staff recommended using tax capacity when ranking local governments for economic development programs that require a local match as a condition of receiving a grant. In other programs, staff told legislators, it might be more appropriate to rank local governments using factors that measured individual residents’ economic distress, as opposed to the local government’s health. This discussion followed a broader one the committee held in January. The League's membership supports a revision of the tier system to focus the measurements more closely aligned to the causes of economic distress. Contact: Erin Wynia
State regulators in the ongoing Duke Energy Carolinas (DEC) rate case heard more advocacy this week for the League's positions, by way of expert testimony from electric rate consultant Brian Coughlan. Appearing at a state Utilities Commission hearing on behalf of the League, which intervened in the case to represent the interests of member cities and towns, Coughlan supported League positions and requests related to time-of-use and peak-use pricing options that can incentivize customers to conserve energy and reduce bills. The hearing will continue into next week, but the League's involvement has already resulted in a pending partial settlement with DEC (which services the western part of the state) on street-lighting issues. The settlement should pave the way for faster, more efficient conversion to LED technology, saving money for municipal taxpayers, making communities safer and leading to more efficient energy use. The lowering of existing rates for traditional street lighting will save cities and towns $2 million, savings that can go toward conversion costs. Equally important, key disincentives to LED conversion will be removed. Last week's League Bulletin detailed the partial settlement as well as the separate Duke Energy Progress (DEP) rate case, in which the League also intervened. Regulators in the DEP case ordered a much lower rate increase than the utility requested.
Federal data on local broadband availability is distorted, overstated and inaccurate, the N.C. Broadband Infrastructure Office (NCBIO) repeated in discussions with legislators this week. Addressing legislators on Thursday, NCBIO Director Jeff Sural tied the distortions to the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC's) reliance on reports from private internet service providers regarding their service levels in census blocks. Because the FCC allows providers to count the entire block as served even if only one parcel actually receives the service, the data indicates much wider broadband availability than actually exists, Sural said. He also told legislators that NCBIO often hears frustration from local officials regarding the lack of broadband service in their communities and their inability to change that situation. To determine the true level of broadband service across the state, Sural said that NCBIO is now asking residents and businesses to report their service levels and lack of access to its crowdsourced N.C. Broadband Map. This week’s discussion followed one last month in which legislators applauded NCBIO for its efforts to paint a truer picture of which areas have broadband. Contact: Erin Wynia
Members of the N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition (MMC) met with the League’s Board of Directors Executive Committee this week as the two groups explored re-establishing an affiliate agreement with the League. The meeting on Wednesday came at the request of MMC and as the League presented a formal proposal detailing the services that the group would receive upon establishing an affiliate relationship. League leaders see the potential move as a great opportunity to strengthen the voice of North Carolina cities and towns through the thought-leadership of large city mayors. “We have open arms to provide all the services you are receiving today, plus more services, with an extremely high level of staff professionalism at a greatly reduced cost, and see this as a means of keeping us all on the same sheet of music,” League President Michael Lazzara, the mayor pro tem of Jacksonville, said during the meeting. Lazzara said that he hoped MMC would accept the invitation, and that the dialogue continues on ways to work together. Every city whose mayor belongs to MMC is a member of the League, but the organization split as an affiliate in 2013. The meeting took place over lunch hosted by the League.